What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is Paul Coulthard and I am currently a professional storyboard artist, working in the UK animation industry.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
Not had too many crazy jobs (yet), so the most unique one would probably have been draining a reservoir in the pouring rain. This was in the break between studio and freelance, where I was temping regular jobs. I had to clamber up and down this muddy woodland banking, checking the drainage pipes were all connected, slipping and sliding about in the rain and mud. I just found it really amusingly futile – trying to drain a reservoir, in torrential rain. It was great fun and good exercise.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I love collaboration projects. I think it’s the best way to make progress on anything, bouncing ideas back and forth with other creative people. I worked on a project with a group of artists and students and that was a really nice collaborative effort. I also co-created and developed a pitch for an action-adventure show with my good friend James Tiley. It included creating, designing, writing the whole series in outline form and a pilot episode script. I loved working out the arcs and story structure the most.
How did you become interested in animation?
My mother tells me that when I was about three years old, there was a brief period where I wouldn‘t answer to any other name than “Dogtanian!” I grew up in the 80‘s, and shows like ‘The Mysterious Cities of Gold’, that had big long story arcs, really gripped me. The sense of journey and adventure sunk in. So it’s safe to see I always loved animation. Then, when I was eleven, I saw ‘Akira’, and my mind imploded! I had never seen anything like it, and although I certainly didn’t understand it at the time, it left a resonating impression on me. It’s the reason I REALLY got into animation. I finally got to see it in the cinema in my third year of animation college, which seemed very fitting. Akira led me on to anime as a teen and young adult, and in anime I found those long arcing stories that I had been missing since ‘Cites of Gold’. Hayao Miyazaki was also a big influence on me in college. Of course, I love all forms of animation, but to me, it’s a storytelling tool, and I found the eastern stories so much more interesting.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I am from a town called Aberdare in South Wales, in the UK. Well, I nearly went a completely different route- product design. That was the course I was signed up for, and at the last minute I changed my mind and decided to do a foundation in art first to explore more avenues. Still probably the best and most creative year of my life – it was absolutely relentless and I loved it. By the end of it, I knew I wanted to pursue animation and so I studied 2d drawn animation and loved it. By the end of the course, I knew storyboarding was what I wanted to do. My first real break came about two years after college, when Gary Hurst hired me at Mike Young Productions UK. Learned all of my skillset there, being there for four years, before going freelance.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
I go to my desk, read through the sequences I will be storyboarding, do a thumbnail breakdown and then get on with storyboarding it. I try to stick to a normal work day, but being freelance, I do have flexibility should something crop up, and I just adjust accordingly. Usually work in to the evenings most days and regularly into the weekends. I try and fit in some personal project time when I can.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
Getting to draw for a living. I am extremely grateful for that. But the most engaging and rewarding aspect of storyboarding for me, is the problem solving, having to think through a script and decide on the best way to stage the action, then draw it. There are so many ways to tackle each scenario. I love film, fiction and storytelling in all its forms, so am very grateful to be working in that field.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
I suffer from M.C.S (Man-Cave Syndrome). Being freelance, I work long hours a lot of the time to meet deadlines, and so I am chained to my desk for long periods. It’s quite anti-social! Also – waiting for pay is the biggest issue I have faced since going freelance. It can really mess things up. One other thing, is that with a mentally engaging job like storyboarding – it is very difficult for me to ‘switch off’. You never really leave it at your desk. Also – nitpicking amendments from clients. ‘Her left nostril is not on model’ – really?
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis, how has technology changed in the last few years in your field and how has that impacted you in your job?
Prominent question, as I have recently(one year now) made the transition from working traditionally on paper, to working digital using a cintiq. My workflow has changed tremendously, that being the reason I needed to change- workflow. I will forever prefer drawing with a pencil, and still do for pleasure, but the workflow advantages of software like Storyboard Pro are just too good to ignore. I definitely feel like my workflow is more self contained, and neater now, ( no more cello tape and photocopying). Every now and again though, I’ll lean over and sniff some paper and sharpen a pencil – just for old times sake.
Whats the most difficult part about being in the business?
I think for me the most difficult thing, from the inside and out – is finding myself endlessly frustrated with the lack of genuinely bold material that is created for animation in the ‘west’. This is not a dis’ of the creatives or the artists, but more of the attitude towards animation itself – in that it is only for children, and thereby the only things that get made are safe and predictable. There are exceptions, but the attitude exists and it holds us all back. This attitude does not exist in Japan, and so they tell a far wider scope of stories.
If you could change the way the business works and is run how would you do it?
I would like to see more producers who actually have some concept of how much it actually takes (in both time and talent) to make the thing they are producing. I would like more people at the top that understand what goes into the work on the bottom. And I think a law should be passed, that freelancers should get paid the moment they invoice. I am only half-joking.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Richard Williams when I was in college. He had just released his animation book, which became our new bible in college. I remember him signing my book “Good luck with those darn ostriches!”For no good reason, other than I asked him to. I recently met the storyboard artist Will Simpson, who boards on Game of Thrones. He talked with me for a good while, and gave me some great advice.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
I have been very fortunate in life. I have great parents, had a fantastic childhood , am happily married to a wonderful woman, and I get to draw for a living. The only genuinely difficult(by my measure at least) situations I have had have been either far too personal and emotional to talk about here, or to do with the financial difficulty of going freelance with no real safety net. The first few years were tough.
Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
Loads. This is what I live for. I have this huge story that I hope one day will be my first(and probably only) prose novel. I am also doing visual development for it. My wife Sobrina and I have three wild collab stories that one day will find their forms. I have a number of storyboard projects I am chipping away at, some my own and some that are based off my nephew Harrison’s rather fertile imagination. My most immediate project is called ‘God of Bones’, and I am working on an animatic sequence for it, that I hope to have something finalised and to a high standard in 2015. It involves a giant calcified leviathan, a dragon, and really wild action sequences. I am currently gearing my folio towards more cinematic work, and these personal projects are my way of doing that. (See samples above)
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
Tricky one. I seem to be pretty good at ‘Rock, paper, scissors’. Does that count, or is that just luck?
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Yes. Firstly: It’s all about the portfolio. Grades mean nothing, in and of themselves. It is a persons work that will get them a job. I would hire a 17 year old with no experience and an amazing folio over someone who simply has impressive credentials.
Secondly: Live by this mantra:” Do good work. THEN show it.” This ties in with the portfolio, but it also relates to not showing your hand too soon. If you are working on something, and it’s not quite ready – don’t show it. It can do more harm than good in some cases.
Thirdly: And this feeds off the last point – learn to acknowledge your level of skill, whether that be singularly, or in relation to others. Learn to recognise ‘where you are’ in terms of your skill level, and then measure that against where you want to be. If you want to work for Blizzard- look at their work and ask yourself honestly “Am I there yet?”. If you are- great. If you aren’t – you know exactly what to aim for.
Lastly: work hard while you are young. You may not realise just how much time you really do have as a student and before you go pro. Make the most of it.